Sudbury

Team searches for unmarked graves at former Sault Ste. Marie residential school

A team that searched for unmarked graves at the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie has said it could see results from ground penetrating radar in two to three months.

It could take two to three months to get ground penetrating radar results

The Shingwauk Indian Residential School, shown around 1965, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. (Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, Algoma University)

WARNING: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

A team that searched for unmarked graves at the former Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie has said it could see results from ground penetrating radar in two to three months.

Jay Jones is the former president of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association, and was part of that team. Both of his parents were residential school survivors.

"As you can imagine, it's quite a bit of emotion," he said about participating in the search. 

"There's a sense of relief from the survivors. They've always said that there are unmarked burials. They've always believed that as long as I've known them, they've said that. So they've been fully prepared for this day when we start looking for them."

The Shingwauk Residential School was located on the grounds of what is now Algoma University.

Jay Jones is the son of the late Susie and Vernon Jones, who were both Shingwauk Residential School Survivors. He was president of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association. (Algoma University)

Jones said 72 children were buried in a nearby cemetery, but added there have long been reports from survivors of unmarked graves that have not yet been found.

"My mom's brother is buried there and he died when he was 15 years old at the Shingwauk Indian Residential School," he said. "She never knew him."

Jones added survivors want the truth to come out. "I believe that it will help some families in their healing journey," he said.

Canada-wide searches

In August the federal government committed $321 million to help Indigenous communities search burial sites at former residential schools and support survivors and their communities.

"Since late May, a number of Indigenous people have contacted our government to share that they are now reliving the experiences they have worked so hard to move on from, opening up old wounds they thought they had healed," Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller told the CBC when the government announced its funding.

The Ontario government set aside an additional $10 million over a three-year span to identify, investigate and commemorate residential school burial sites in the province.

There were 18 residential schools in Ontario. The last one closed in 1991, according to the province. Some sites have since been repurposed, abandoned or destroyed.

The search for unmarked graves at residential school sites across Canada began after the Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia discovered the remains of more than 200 children at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.

Many more unmarked graves at other residential schools have been found since then.


Support is available for anyone affected by their experience at residential schools, and those who are triggered by the latest reports.

A national Indian Residential School Crisis Line has been set up to provide support for survivors and those affected. People can access emotional and crisis referral services by calling the 24-hour national crisis line: 1-866-925-4419. A Saskatchewan-based line is now available by calling 306-522-7494.

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